January 22, 2020

Recall petition against Edwards Township clerk deemed ‘not factual’ by election commission


WEST BRANCH — Recall language filed against Edwards Township Clerk Dennis Stephens was deemed to be not factual and thus was denied during a factual and clarity hearing May 23.

The decision was made by the members of the election commission, which consists of Probate Judge Shana Lambourn, county Clerk Gary Klacking and county Treasurer Dwight McIntyre.

The language was filed against Stephens by Edwards Township resident and former Clerk Douglas Brewer. Brewer gives two reasons for attempting to recall Stephens in his petition.

The first reason states that despite there not being a signed contract between the city of West Branch and Edwards Township regarding the former Page Street Senior Center, Stephens voted to sue the city for breach of contract.

The second reason was because of disrespect and mistreatment of township Trustee Brent Illig during the township’s Feb. 12 meeting, when Stephens called for Illig to resign.

It was the second part of the petition that commission members had an issue with. While they did not have to give a reason for denying the language, both Klacking and Lambourn said they found the second portion to be clear but not factual. McIntyre simply voted no on the petition as a whole.

Prior to the vote, both Brewer and Stephens were given a chance to address the election commission. It was noted, however, that the commission was not to determine whether the language in the petition was true, but only whether it contained only facts, without opinion, and was clear.

Brewer stated only that he felt the petition language was factual and clear.

Stephens, however, spoke for several minutes, during which he challenged the wording. He referenced the fact that Circuit Court Judge Robert Bennett found a contract did exist despite the lack of a signature.

“The judge ruled that a contract did, in fact, exist based upon the actions of the township and the city,” Stephens said. “The city was bound by the terms of the contract. The city’s failure to abide by those terms created their course of conduct and caused the breach of contract.”

He called the language in the petition “insidious.”

“It is drafted to confuse the electors who review the petition,” Stephens said. “The copy of this check proves that absence of signatures on the active contract with the city are no more relevant to the lawsuit than the current phase of the moon. The deliberate intent by the filer of this petition to deceive the electors is more than enough by itself to declare the entire petition invalid.”

As Stephens began to argue the second part of the language, Lambourn interrupted him.

“You understand that we can only determine whether the allegations are a fact, not whether they are true or not?” she asked. “And whether what is stated is clear. That’s the only thing we can do here today. So I want you to understand that. Whether or not those things happened or not, we can’t investigate… That’s why we aren’t swearing you in. We don’t take testimony. It’s whether or not you find that the language is clear and you understand what they’re saying here, or whether or not it’s an actual stated fact, versus an opinion.”

Stephens said he was disputing that the wording in the language was intended to be unclear.

“Because it implies that a signature on the contract was necessary in order to proceed with the lawsuit,” Stephens said.

He then went on to argue the second point.

“The Ogemaw Herald reported the sensationalism when I called for the resignation of Trustee Brent Illig,” Stephens said. “Never reported was the constant internal conflict and distress among township board members intentionally caused by Trustee Brent Illig with behavior not based upon specific reasons regarding issues facing the township board. His lack of willingness to exercise his role as trustee as defined by state law was prohibiting the township board from acting in the best interest of township residents. It was my position, therefore, if he did not want to serve the best interest of the community and the residents who elected him, then he should resign.”

Lambourn said during the hearing that the decision could be appealed, but it must be appealed within 10 days of the decision. New language can also be refiled.


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